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Jo C.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 69268
Experience:  Over 5 years in practice
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My daughter and three fellow students are looking for new rented

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My daughter and three fellow students are looking for new rented accommodation for her second university year. The landlord at the previous address has given a poor reference to the referencing agency and as a result she has been told by the letting agents that she has lost the new property she was due to move into this week and that they have all lost their £300 deposits. The previous landlords have apparently stated in a reference that although the rent was always paid on time and the property was clean that their were noise disturbances. The landlords lived below the 1st floor flat they occupied in a small terraced Victorian house in Fulham. There was no sound insulation between the upstairs and downstairs flat. The landlords would ring the local council and complain about any noise that transferred even footsteps. I have spoken with the council and they confirm that they visited the property on each occasion but on no visit found any disturbance that warranted the issue of a formal notification.The landlord has been difficult to deal with throughout the tenancy. At the outset we had to ask for the landlord to provide an electrical safety and gas safety certificate and that involved some expense for them They appeared resentful to have to do that and since then have been antagonistic towards the tenants.My daughter has less than three weeks to find a place having been in the process of moving into this new property for over two weeks.The landlords allegations about noise albeit reported by them was not substantiated by the council. This in my opinion should not cause them to lose the property and their deposits which as students they cannot afford to do. The landlord has also gone back on an agreement to return the deposit that was reached with all the parents at a meeting with them when they did an inventory check. They subsequently claimed several days later that a smoke alarm had been "deliberately" damaged without any evidence to support such an accusation. Is there any legal process we can do to apply pressure to the landlord to remove subjective comment from their references so that my daughter and her colleagues can retain their deposits with the letting agents. Otherwise it is a possibility that if the referencing agency is used again by another agent then they will find it impossible to get accommodation anywhere and that will have a major impact on their university education.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Jo C. replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for your question. My name is ***** ***** I will try to help with this.
How did the smoke alarm become damaged?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

My daughter has no idea. The damage was not visible but the landlord "claimed the connecting wires to the mains had been deliberately cut" again this is accusation without proof and purely subjective" Considering we went to considerable trouble to make sure that the property had adequate fire and safety standards it is hardly plausible that my daughter or any of her flatmates would deliberately disconnect a smoke alarm designed to protect them. We have no idea if the alarm was working when fitted.

Expert:  Jo C. replied 2 years ago.
The trouble with this is that it hasn't actually been decided that the damage wasn't deliberate. He seems to be contesting that point and there isn't yet a decision from the scheme. In fairness, damage to a smoke alarm tends not to be accidental by definition.
In any event though, false or inaccurate statements in a reference can amount to a defamation. What he sets down is entirely a matter for him. If his reference contains a defamation then its for you to sue. Obviously you don't want to even consider going to court because the costs would be enormous but one option is to get a solicitor to write to him warning him of the risk of defamation which may well cause him to be less inflammatory. It is possible that he would still deliver a guarded reference though. There are always ways around that type of thing.
Also, even if he does retreat from that now, the agency is quite unlikely to reconsider at this stage.
Agencies will generally want references. There are lots of landlords that do not seek referencesso its an option to apply to private landlords. If thats not possible because of the configuration of the University town then your only option is to encourage the landlord to think more carefully about what he writes or face a defamation action.
Can I clarify anything for you?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Hi Jo, we had no issues with referencing via an agency as we knew that the tenancy agreement had been operated fairly on behalf of the tenants. The rents had always been paid on the due dates. The property was professionally valeted by a contractor at the tenants expense and the condition of the property was improved over that which existed when the tenancy began. Allegatory and unsubstantiated comments about noise disturbance should not outweigh evidential substantiated information such as rent payments and professional cleaning receipts.These appear however to have been set aside and a "fail" issued purely on the basis of the allegatory statements. That cannot possibly be appropriate in terms of causing tenants to lose deposits and new property? If the landlord reverses there position and issues a satisfactory reference why should that not be taken into account with as much balance as the negative one?

An inventory check was made with all tenants , landlords, and parents present at which time a cross reference was made to a photographic inventory taken by the landlords. It was collectively and mutually agreed that the property was satisfactory and that the deposit would be returned. This decision has subsequently been renaged on by the landlords. There is no visible damage to the smoke alarm other than what the landlord claims is disconnected wiring. There is no evidential proof that the smoke alarm was in any way tampered with by the tenants. Electrical work was carried out in November last year and it is quite possible that the electrician forgot to connect the wiring ? I thought English law states that people are deemed innocent until proven guilty not guilty until proven innocent.

Expert:  Jo C. replied 2 years ago.
It will be taken into account but the chances they will ignore the negative reference are minimal. People are looking for negatives in this type of situation.
The principle of innocent until proven guilty relates to crime and has no relevance here.
The fact that the inventory has been done doesn't prove there was no damage. It just proves they either didn't inspect the smoke alarms or didn't notice this. Its a piece of evidence not incontrovertible proof.
It is suprising that the inventory clerk didn't look at the smoke alarms and if he did and didn't notice this then that tends to suggest it didn't exist.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

If the landlord is alleging "deliberate damage" that surely implies criminal damage and as such the principle of innocent until proven guilty would apply?

I am a landlord myself operating a small portfolio of properties. I was under the impression that once I had agreed the check out inventory with my tenants I then could not start to retrospectively present claims at some point in the future to them. How can it be proven that these subsequent "claims" were not caused after the inventory check out? I thought that was the point of having an inventory check out and mutual agreement.

If the landlord reverses their reference to satisfactory then surely we should be able to reclaim any deposits paid to the letting agents? If there is no reference fail then what basis can the letting agents hold onto the deposits?

Expert:  Jo C. replied 2 years ago.
No, I cannot agree with that I'm afraid.
If the wires have been disconnected then that is deliberate. You can't do that accidentally.
If the landlord writes a fresh reference then that doesn't mean there hasn't been a reference fail. A new reference will not erase the old.
Your inventories clerk is just gathering evidence when he does the check. If he misses something you can still sue upon it. Its just that the checkout is a piece of evidence against you.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

There is no evidence to support the wires have been "disconnected" only that they were not connected when inspected. That does not indicate a deliberate act of disconnection by the tenants surely?

This would not be a new reference but a revision of the original reference.If the landlord decides they have made an incorrect reference then how can the incorrect reference stay on record if they then correct it? If someone is accused of doing something and then it is proven they did not are we stating that they will still have a record of having been considered as having committed the offence ?

I still do not see how a landlord can realistically expect to validate a retrospective claim against a tenant once an inventory check has been agreed and the tenant moved out. If I hire a car and I return it to the hire company where it is inspected and checked back in then it is hardly reasonable to expect a call from that hire car company several days later claiming I had damaged the car. I would reasonably state that the damage was not there when the car was checked back in and therefore how can they prove that it was not dne after the vehicle was returned?

Forgive me for pressing these points its just that I want to fully understand and appreciate the logic and rationale regarding these issues to understand fully what our situation is in law. You are being very helpful in that regard

Expert:  Jo C. replied 2 years ago.
If wires are not connected then they have been disconnected. I think the difference is really semantics.
I am really sorry but I am not going to be able to agree that a new reference from the landlord will mean that the agents cannot consider the old for the reasons I've explained above.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 69268
Experience: Over 5 years in practice
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